Self-Sabotage Goals and How I’m Trying to Avoid Them

In my Run of the Mill 5k race recap, I mentioned that when I set race goals, I tend to self-sabotage the closer the race gets. For the ROTM 5k, this came in the form of signing up for the race with two very realistic, achievable goals: to run under 22 minutes (a ~20 second PR) and to place #1 in my age group; and then daydreaming even harder goals that left me unhappy with a solid race day performance.

As the race neared, my confidence (or maybe arrogance?) grew. When I signed up all I wanted a sub-22, but in the days leading up to the race I started to dream of 21:30… or 21:15 for a whole minute faster than last fall’s PR… or even a 21 minute 5k, a huge (and totally unrealistic!) improvement. I should note that I don’t actually train for the 5 kilometer distance and my training didn’t support any of this dreaming. On treadmill ladder workouts, I never practiced more than a 6:53 pace as my 5k pace. My mile PR is still in the 6:30s officially. Pacing 6:45 for a 21 minute 5k would take a miracle… and I was going to be running this race at the tail end of a 60 mile training week.

So instead of sticking to my realistic original goal, I had a mental image of crossing the finish line in a triumphant 21:30, and when I came in at 21:56 and first in the 20-29 age group — achieving both of my original goals! — I was a little disappointed in my performance. Despite hitting my goals and running a decent race, I couldn’t find it in myself to be happy about it.
Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 3.14.33 PM.png
I should look much happier in this photo… I smashed my (original, attainable) goal!

And this happens to me far too often. Last fall, I ran a surprising 1:43:38 at the Princeton Half Marathon in early October. I’d done 10 easy miles the day before and expected to come in at 1:47 or 1:48, so I completely exceeded my own expectations when I snagged a 9.5 minute PR! But then, two weeks later as I toed the line for the half marathon at the Baltimore Running Festival, buoyed by my recent and surprising success, I wanted a sub-1:40. Even though I’d run a 20 miler one week earlier and my race was coming at the end of a 5 day streak (I usually don’t run more than 3 days in a row), and Baltimore charts a hilly, challenging course! In hindsight, sub-1:40 was way outside my reach, but I talked a big game to myself pre-race and was totally let down by my 1:44:24… even though it was less than a minute off the huge PR I set just 13 days earlier!

I have countless examples of times that I ran a race with an A+++ goal in mind, failed to reach this extraordinary (and overambitious) goal, and then felt disappointed in myself for a performance I should have been happy about.

Two of my best races in the last year have come from a totally opposite mentality. Rather than dreaming big, I kept my goals realistic and in tune with my training. Last spring I ran the Minneapolis Marathon thinking I could do 4:20… maybe 4:15 — which would have been a 23+ minute PR from my first marathon (4:43). I was then both blown away and overjoyed when I ended up crossing the finish in 4:04:39 — a 39 minute PR and a time that was beyond my wildest dreams. And I was smiling for days after my 1:43 at the Princeton HM, coming in 5 minutes faster than I had expected. In these cases, I set realistic goals, and when I surpassed those, I was full of pride.

And that is the mentality I want to have as I go about setting goals for my two big races this season: the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon on April 3 (this Sunday!), and the New Jersey Marathon on May 1. Rather than set crazy goals that I’d have to be having a miraculous day to pull off, I want to set goals that I have a real chance of meeting. And I don’t want to inflate those goals the closer race day gets!

So, considering my recent race and training times, here are my realistic and unwavering goals for my spring half and full marathons:

Caesar Rodney Half Marathon, April 3
Goal:
1:38-1:39:59 (7:29-7:37 pace)
I want to break the 1:40 barrier, and I truly think I can do it. A half marathon is the perfect distance for me to dig deep. I do 10 or 12 mile midweek runs every week, so 13.1 doesn’t feel like a foreboding distance anymore. The CR course is pretty flat in the first half, with a long stretch of uphill in the middle (about 2.5 miles), and then a long bit of downhill (3 miles worth) before an incline up to the finish line in the last quarter mile. This is pretty similar to the elevation chart for the Princeton HM, and I tend to do fairly well with hills. I am taking a cutback week the week of the race (my mileage in the 4 weeks leading up to the race has been 58-61 miles, and the week of the race I’m cutting back to “just” 40) so that my legs will be fresh and ready to race the morning of April 3.

However now that the week of the race is here, I can hear myself thinking, “But what about 1:35? How close to that could I get?” And I am shutting that down right away! I am not going to start daydreaming about super fast times. I am going to stick with my 1:38-1:39:xx goal no matter what, because I know that’s a time my training has set me up to run. And looking at the weather forecast, I’ll probably be running in challenging conditions (20-30 mph winds and about 40-45 degrees at the start if I’m lucky!), so it is best to keep my goal very realistic.

New Jersey Marathon, May 1
Goal:
3:26-3:32 (7:52-8:05 pace)
Last fall, I know I was in shape for a 3:40 marathon, had I not gotten injured 10 days pre-race. So this spring I want redemption in the form of a kickass BQ time. 3:32 would get me under the Boston buffer I hope — last year’s cutoff was 2 minutes 28 seconds under qualifying time (and was a record high). I am in much better shape now, both physically and mentally, than I was last fall, and I’m optimistic about how fast I can run a marathon, because lately I’ve been doing tempos at the end of my long runs and meaning to run 7:55-8:00 pace, but hitting 7:40s with ease. 7:45-7:50 seems to be a great cruising speed for me these days, but I don’t want to make a lofty goal of pacing under 7:50 for the whole 26.2. I think something in the 7:50 range will be challenging in the later miles, but achievable — plus I’ve never paced under 9:00 minute miles for a marathon, so I’d love to skip the 8:00s altogether! I’ve got a big taper in my schedule in the two weeks before the race, so fresh legs should yield fast results!

Does anyone else tend to make self-sabotaging goals, and how do you avoid letting it get into your mental game?

What are/were your goal races this spring and how have you gone about setting goals?

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8 thoughts on “Self-Sabotage Goals and How I’m Trying to Avoid Them

  1. Awesome race recaps and goals! Looking forward to following along! And I can relate. I have a downhill marathon next month. 8000ft to 2400ft elev. And found myself thinking I could run sub 8 splits all the way. Highly doubt it right now at a higher BW. But I’m definitely working on downhill running right now. Another is a 50k in June. Hoping for sub 10 splits. But Idk how I will preform after 26mi. I should just try to finish my first ultra, but I always am crazy about performance.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’m excited! And after my trail 25k next weekend, I’m going to start doing lot’s of downhill training. Gym TM goes to -3%. Course is much steeper, but it should help. Very curious about how much faster it will make my pace. Really curious haha.

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  2. Oh man yes! I’m super guilty of setting lofty goals! But the beautiful thing is I eventually meet them. I love the feeling of pushing my limits. And you will too. 🙂 Have you read the book Elite Minds? I strongly recommend it. Looking forward to watching your progress!

    Liked by 1 person

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